Navi Mumbai airport may take another 4-5 years to get going: Sinha

The Navi Mumbai International Airport will take another four to five years to become operational, minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha said on Wednesday. This was in sharp contrast to a recent claim by Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that the first flight from the new airport would take off in December 2019.

Mumbai, with its single runway and saturation of slots, remains the "single biggest bottleneck for civil aviation in India", Sinha said at an event in Mumbai.

Sinha was addressing a summit of Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a global aviation consultancy firm, through video-conference. He said given the robust demand for domestic travel, two factors need to be considered: airlines inducting aircraft to expand fleets and availability of slots at major airports like Mumbai and Delhi.

The Mumbai airport handled about 45.2 million passengers in the last financial year, and will reach its maximum design capacity of 48 million by March this year.

The GVK-led Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL) through a subsidiary holds a 74-per cent equity stake in NMIA, while nodal agency Cidco holds the balance 26 per cent. The initial concession period is 30 years from the appointed date, which is extendable for a further 10 years.

MIAL was declared the successful bidder in February, 2017 for the Rs16,000 crore project, offering a share of 12.6 per cent of revenue to CIDCO. Rival airport operator GMR Group was the only other bidder in the fray, offering 10.44 per cent to Cidco.

The project has moved at a snail's pace after it was first envisaged decades ago to provide a back-up to the growing traffic at Mumbai airport. Land acquisition and environmental clearances had held the project.

According to an outlook report prepared by aviation consultancy firm CAPA for fiscal 2019, India's domestic traffic is expected to grow by 18-20 per cent, crossing 150 million annual passengers, with capacity growth moving close to 25 per cent. But growth may be tempered to 15 per cent if capacity or some aircraft inductions are delayed.

International traffic is likely to grow by 12 per cent or more to reach 70-75 million passengers.

"Delays at Navi Mumbai have been a huge cost to the state and national economy" CAPA said in its report.

The report further estimates that a total of 124-130 aircraft, including 30 regional lines, may be added to the airlines' fleet during the same period - some for replacement and about 25 narrow body ones for international flights.

Taking into consideration oil prices and airport capacity, the government has forecast a 15 per cent growth in air passengers, which translates to one billion flights. The unprecedented growth of air passenger traffic demonstrates the demand for aviation despite many challenges, Sinha said, adding that tier-2 and 3 cities show tremendous potential.

The minister also spoke about low-cost long haul flights, the latest in global air travel, though yet to debut in India. "We lack a direct low-cost alternative to Europe and the West Coast (of the USA). International traffic growth from India will be tremendously boosted if low-cost carriers start providing connectivity to Europe," Sinha said.